I've been waiting for this episode since the title was announced (I'm a shipper, what can I say?), but ultimately, The Bear and the Maiden Fair was a bit of a disappointment. It had some excellent scenes and excellent character moments (including the aforementioned shippiness), but also plenty of things that were questionable at best.
Tread carefully, show. I'm not sure your female characters can take much more meddling.
The scene between Sansa and Margaery is a difficult one to talk about. On the one hand, it was an awesome scene full of awesome ladies. Sophie Turner and Natalie Dormer continue to absolutely slay with their acting, and it was refreshing, after "not like other girls" Talisa, to see two female characters discussing how sucky it is to be a woman in Westeros, and how you can use it to your advantage. Margaery is the sort of woman who is able to smile and be kind and adapt to any situation to make it work for her, although she was also playing Sansa to some extent in her potential marriage to Loras, she seems genuine in her desire to comfort and help Sansa and subtly show her how to play the game as well.
Unfortunately, the "Sansa is selfish and shallow" perspective, combined with the "Tyrion is amazing" perspective, puts an uncomfortable different spin on the scene. Sansa's protest that Tyrion is a Lannister is well-placed. She is being forced to become a Lannister, become the enemy that she thought she was escaping, and contribute to that family line forever more. The Lannisters will have a chance to control the home she has been fighting to return to. The Lannisters will swallow her identity, once and for all, and she has every right to be distraught about that. But then the conversation shifts, to how Tyrion is "dwarf," to whether he is or isn't attractive, to how he's never been cruel to her. The conversation is reframed with the idea that Sansa isn't giving Tyrion a fair chance, that he's a good person and that she should accept and respect that. Maybe she should even be happy. And in that context, criticisms that Sansa is simply shallow and naive and spoiled begin to seem justified. She's just a silly girl with a marriage to a good man, but she's too superficial to see it.
Obviously, it's not my reaction to the scene, but the reading is there. And with it, Sansa's character is narrowed. Her plight is undermined. And her struggle to say who she does or doesn't want to marry, no matter the reason, is turned into a kind of brattish ungratefulness, rather than yet another injustice in her stifling life.
The later scene with Shae had similar double readings. On the one hand, Shae has a right to be angry that Tyrion always listens to Tywin instead of standing up for himself. She has always been outspoken and pragmatic and somewhat bitter. "I'm your whore, and when you've tired of fucking me, I'll be nothing," she says, and it is a blunt but realistic assessment of what is going on. Tyrion might be able to declare that he loves her and wants to be with her, but he has all of the power in the situation, and for Shae, the prospects are quite different. She can't rely on his continued affection or his promises to take care of her, and she is right to say so.
On the other hand, they seem to be painting Shae as a jealous figure. As someone who's spiteful and harsh and is so blinded by her desire to have Tyrion all to herself that she cannot accept reality. I hope I'm not the only one who sees that as a kind of role reversal from the books, where Tyrion's possessiveness and doubt taint everything. I'm worried that they're setting up Shae's irrational jealousy as a major plot point between them... a plot point that is definitely going to change the way their plotline is interpreted in the future. That could be a mess, to say the least.
The rest of the episode was a combination of the amazing and the awful. Queen Daenerys with her dragons and her fearlessness was epic to watch. She may have many flaws, but she offered to leave the city alone if it freed its slaves, and she is taking to the role of imperious queen with style. Of course, the Jaime and Brienne scenes completely destroyed my heart, in a good way. I only hope we continue to get more scenes with them now that their major plotarc in this season is over.
But we also got more silent!Catelyn. She had a couple of lines this week, but each one was interrupted by a random other character, and of course no one seems willing to listen to her. This could be a tragic tale about dismissing someone just because they happen to be an older woman, but instead, it feels like we're meant to dismiss and forget about her the same way. Talisa is apparently pregnant, and god I hope she's a really unsubtle spy, because the entire Robb and Talisa scene seemed utterly unnecessary.
And speaking of unnecessary, we had another torture scene with Theon, this time with added naked ladies. We get it, show. Ramsey Bolton is horrific. Theon is suffering. Either make the plot go somewhere now, or knock it off. Especially as this one didn't really make sense. Who were these women who were happy and willing to be part of Theon's torture? It doesn't seem in character for Ramsey to have anyone like that around him, because he'd be having far too much fun torturing them too instead. Their perfectly happy, unafraid presence doesn't make much sense. But what is an episode without some literal torture porn, right? I'm not going to address it or dissect it beyond that, because I'm more than sick of all this now.
But Jaime and Brienne! Jaime and Brienne, right? If the show continues to be awful, or god forbid gets worse, at least I can rest safe in the knowledge that I've now seen my absolutely favorite set of scenes from the books, and can quit watching without missing out on them. Hope springs eternal, though, and they do manage to get some things wonderfully right, even as they get other things horrifically wrong. See you guys next week.